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“Reflection”

October 10, 2014

Jules Bianchi scored points for Marussia in Monaco this year. © Marussia F1 Team.

Jules Bianchi scored points for Marussia in Monaco this year. © Marussia F1 Team.

Hindsight and reflection can be both beautiful and cruel things, but it can do much to lend an eye to solutions, while also exposing so many impracticalities.

Indeed hindsight and reflection have been high on the agenda this week in Formula One. Following Marussia driver Jules Bianchi’s horror shunt at the end of the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday, there inevitable noises demanding immediate action, which was to be expected.

Realistically however, quick, easy and ill-thought solutions are not the way forward, nor have they ever been. If one is expected immediate alteration in the regulations, then they may be a touch disappointed.

At the moment the FIA Institute are involved in the investigation and not only has footage been pooled from outboard, onboard and fan-shot {note 1}, but numerous pictures of the scene were collated from photographers at the scene.
The FIA also have possession of the car’s “black box”, from which information such as speed, g-force measurements and other key indicators will have been recorded. A statement was taken from Adrian Sutil; however I am unsure as to whether the marshals present were also interviewed following the session.

In yesterday’s Driver Press Conference, when asked whether drivers could contribute to help F1 to learn the lessons of what happened last Sunday, reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel said: “I think it’s very difficult right now to give you the golden answer; […] I think for now we need to first of all digest what happened and then make the right conclusions. I think it would be wrong only a couple of days after, with all the events going on, with all the happenings we’ve had since Sunday, to come out with something that hasn’t been thought through.”

Ferrari pilot Fernando Alonso added: “There is an investigation going on. We don’t have all the details. We don’t have all the information necessary to suggest any change. So we let the people work and whatever idea, whatever things come from the drivers’ point of view we will share it.”
Some may consider their answers “safe”, but realistically they are both correct, for rash action in the name of safety may leave the competitors and trackside personnel open to other risks.

This week there has been some discussion as to whether recovery vehicles can be modified to “deflect” an out of control machine, but like everything else, this requires time to be investigated.
Other elements such as race start times have also come into focus, with FOM (Formula One Management) dictating in recent seasons that Grand Prix in Japan, Australia and Malaysia start later in the afternoon local time, in order to accommodate European television schedules.

Following the investigation, there may be a reappraisal of safety car and yellow flag procedures in light of this incident – and the timing for that may be right. Although certain aspects of safety car regulations have altered through the years, they have largely remained unchanged through an era where the safety regulations of cars and circuits have changed beyond recognition.
Yesterday, Force India’s Sergio Perez commented that if “there is a tractor coming out to pick up the car we need a safety car no matter what conditions,” which is a rather reasonable assumption, but one wonders if a middle ground can be found.

Several years ago, Creventic – organisers of the 24 Hour Series – pioneered a strategy called “Code 60” (alternatively “Code Purple”), whereby races are neutralised “in the event of an accident or other safety issue, without having to put a safety car on circuit.”
The Code 60 was so named because the regulation requires drivers to stick to a speed limit of 60kph; while track workers clear whatever malady they are presented with.
It has since been adopted by the ACO for the 24 Hours of Le Mans; however the French special uses it in a slightly different manner. Under the banner of “Slow Zone”, localised areas of a circuit can be kept at a strict speed limit (80kph in the case of Le Mans), while corner workers are operating.

Whether a Slow Zone concept could be applied to Formula One is something the regulators would need to work out. Like any other potential solution or alteration, this is not as simple as it sounds.
A Slow Zone would require a high enough speed limit to help keep tyre pressures high, but also low enough to make the environment as safe as possible, while deceleration zones might require additional analysis to accommodate individual circuits and corners.

As always, thoughts are with Bianchi, his family, friends and colleagues.

For now, the investigation continues. Let it do so.

{note 1}
As an aside, claims of the FIA’s attempts to avoid culpability, because FOM are sending takedown notices pretty much ignores the fact that FOM always send out takedown notices for everything F1 (from 1981-onward). It’s their job.

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